[thumbnail description: photo of loan wearing an orange short sleeve shirt and brown corduroy shorts as they are sitting in the lawn in front of north carolina’s general assembly. they have their floral cane hanging over their right shoulder as they are looking at the camera. this photo was taken at the last demonstration they’ve been to - moral monday in july 2013.]
for the past few years i’ve been organizing with really amazing folks around struggles that i care deeply about. when i started experiencing really intense back pain and spasms, i started to fall off of the face of the earth. every single time my back was in literal crippling pain, every time i could not leave bed, every time i could not get up i was directly tying it with my inability to “stand up and fight,” to “take to the streets” and to “show up” for my people.
i am writing this today knowing that i am not at fault; being disabled is not a fault. i am writing this today also knowing that it’s not my community’s fault that i have felt and still often feel alienated and erased by virtue of my disability and the discomfort i bring up in others.
it’s not my community’s fault but i still want to offer compassionate, critical dialogue about what it has meant so far to be disabled, to have been an organizer and to be a part of a community so often invoking visions for transformative change by exploiting the internalized ableism and capitalism in all of us.
ableism tells us that unless you are normative with a normative body then you are not capable of participating in society. capitalism tells us that unless you are always producing and always doing then you are not participating in society. and when these two systems come together unless you are a normative person with a normative body producing and doing so in very particular ways then you are not capable of participating in society.
i felt these systems translate into my body and tug on my pain. my body and my disability became a host for all of the ways capitalism and productivity use ableism in order to force people into feelings of unworthiness. i felt unworthy, i felt unvalued and i felt that if i couldn’t stand up for the revolution then the revolution would leave me behind, in my bed, in crippling pain.
i felt so unvalued that i started to believe that i could deny my disability in order to access these organizing communities again. a line like, “those other people are disabled and i am not” would repeat in my head every time i managed to be present in the ways others had desired for me to be.
but the reality was that i am disabled and others were too and they just weren’t visible; i did not “see” them in the communities i frequented. when i was starting to fall off of the face of the earth, when i couldn’t be the power organizer i felt like i was before, there were not many people there to receive me, partly because i did not reach out and partly because no one and nothing signaled to me that i would still be valuable after the confession that i could no longer do all that i’ve done before.
at the decline of my participation in the offline world, in physical spaces: at meetings, at protests, at strategy sessions i was met with a lot of questions that folks actually didn’t want responses for. for every honest answer i gave about my pain and why i now limp around with a cane, i was given a distanced look of discomfort and some wishes that i will recover or get well soon. truthfully, there is nothing for me to recover from. i am disabled with no way out and that’s okay.
but i do want to heal all of the silences that have communicated with me that disabled people cannot be actively participating in the communities that share this journey of internalized ableism and capitalism.
you can continue reading at the link!
“‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ definitely is an acronym,” Monae explains during an interview at Fuse HQ. “It’s for those who are marginalized.” She says the “Q” represents the queer community, the “U” for the untouchables, the “E” for emigrants, the second “E” for the excommunicated and the “N” for those labeled as negroid.
"It’s for everyone who’s felt ostracized," she adds. "I wanted to create something for people who feel like they want to give up because they’re not accepted by society."
One way that whites can be accountable is to stop being enablers to white supremacy by supplanting the voice of people of color with their own. We do not need white people speaking for people of color. Such talk is crass paternalism. My words do not need to be placed through a white filter in order for them to be understandable.
Below is an edited and abridged transcription (unabridged version here) of “Flatbush Rebellion and the Murder of Kimani Gray,” a discussion where I was one of the co-panelist. The discussion took place at Bluestockings Bookstore in New York City, as part of the 7th Annual New York City Anarchist Book Fair. It has taken much time and emotional and mental energy to reflect on the discussion, and the aftermath of the discussion. At the time, myself, my co-panelist, and the moderator were all apart of the same political organizing collective, Fire Next Time Network. I have since left that collective due to, the backlash and silencing I experienced shortly after the panel discussion, and generally, the oppressive culture of the group, especially as it relates to gender politics. Despite the fact that the discussion was recorded for the purpose of later sharing the audio on the Fire Next Time blog, it was decided that the audio would not be shared. I perceive that decision to be an act of censoring and silencing. Silencing which likely occurred, because I expressed viewpoints that deviate from those of other collective members, and specifically because I spoke to experiencing my co-panelist, Shemon, as misogynistic in his organizing tendencies.
Elliott: Hey everybody. My name is Elliott. I live in the Bronx. I’ve been a New York Anarchist person for a while. The commonality between the three of us up here, is we’re all members of a network called Fire Next Time, which is a new, small network that pulls together some folks from the Bronx, some folks from Queens, a couple people from Brooklyn, and a collective in Philly. We’re committed to helping develop each other’s political work, critique what each other is doing, try to do it better. And we also have a commitment to developing everyone that’s a part of it so we don’t want to be just a listserv, we want to be a place where people learn and grow. You become better organizers, you become better thinkers, a way to analyze what’s going on in the world. Intervene more effectively. So, briefly, I’ll introduce the folks here.
On my right we have Shemon. Shemon has been around for several years. He came up through Palestine and student organizing. Around the 2003 Anarchist People of Color Conference, he had a brief domestic partnership with Anarchism. But they’ve since parted ways, and he’s now some kind of Left Communist. Shemon will have some comments, he currently lives in Flatbush, but he doesn’t think that should matter. On my left is jodi. Actually I looked up a bio for jodi online that has one of the most vivacious first lines… this is a great description: “jodi is a homefree, queer, disabled parent, a theatre artist, and an organizer.” jodi has been doing, for the past year, some anti-police brutality/ anti-police organizing. And also, they’ve been thinking a good deal about healing, how healing happens within organization, and also within movements. And generally, I think some of the comments, on jodi’s tip, will be about how to pull resources, whether material, intellectual, skills-based resources out of the organizations that tend to co-opt and contain movements, and into other venues.
Shemon: So, there’s a lot that could be said. I’m not going to be able to cover it, so don’t jump my throat because I didn’t mention something. I have three points, and some concluding comments. First, I’m gonna assume everyone knows the basics about what happened. If you don’t, then I don’t know where you’ve been, if you’ve been living in New York City. The next point is, I wanna say that why should what some people call triple a’s, Anarchists, Autonomists, Anti-authoritarians, I throw in Left Communists in there as well… why should we care that what we do matters there or not? Why does our presence count? I would argue our presence counts because many of our, you could argue, political competitors are there: Maoists, Trotskyists, Stalinists, Liberals, Bourgeoisie, all kinds of fools are there trying to win over lots of young people to politics that I think a lot of us would have very strong disagreements with. Now I hear a lot of laughter from a lot of my friends, because they’ll say: “No one listened to Jumaane Williams, no one listened to Charles Barron, no one listened to the Liberals or the Trotskyists, or whoever else. And everyone laughs, and thinks it’s really funny. But, I’ll be like: “You know what? No one listened to us either.” So don’t get too arrogant based off of the incompetence you saw from those other forces, and let that hide the incompetence coming from our own side of this moment in time. So I don’t want to get too arrogant about the fact that really no one in Flatbush, as far as I can tell, cares what’s happening. I don’t want to use that as an argument that the political theories and ideas that we hold so near and dear don’t matter. That’s not my argument, I want to be very clear about that. The next point I want to make is that we should be highly concerned about what happened in Flatbush because the question of race is very relevant in what happened in Flatbush. There’s some observations that I think are very important in how we think about trying to build multiracial struggle in New York City. Some of the points that come to my mind are, Jumanee Williams, the council member from Flatbush, has no interest in multiracial class struggle. He has no interest in any kind of struggle at all. And the only type of interest I would argue he does have for multiracialism is among his middle class and rich friends, the politicians, and the ruling class in New York City.
So I would say that there is three things that we need to avoid to even begin having a movement, and a discussion that is healthy on the question of race. And building multiracial struggle and not de facto falling into what I feel now in New York City, is that many people who think they’re building multiracial struggle are actually contributing to Nationalist or very segregationist politics in the New York Left. So three things we should avoid. One is, the use of autonomy should not be used, cause I’ve heard people say: “That struggle in Flatbush was autonomous, and we don’t want to go there and fuck up the autonomy of the struggle.” I argue that the issue or the concept of autonomy is being used to hide from actually going there and building multiracial struggle. So people are hiding under the table on that question. Second is, and I’m not going to say much on this, cause this should be very easy, the outside agitator shit is an old school anti-communist, anti-anarchist, it’s a racist, all kinds of bullshit way to discredit struggle. And I’m not going to comment anymore on it. If it’s a controversial issue here, then I don’t know where to begin the conversation on that question. The third thing I’d say is, I do not think we should fall for the trap of the people are not ready for struggle. That is used by everyone all the time, and you cannot explain any of the revolts that occur across the world, because no one could predict it. And the day before those revolts happened, “those people” weren’t ready for struggle either. And yet the revolt occurred the day later. So obviously this is coming from real issues, real debates that were happening during Flatbush that week when all that stuff was going on. Alright I think I got thirty seconds. The third point is, that if you’re gonna have revolutionary politics in New York, whether you’re a person of color revolutionary, or a white revolutionary, you have to be able to stand up and fight back people like Jumaane Williams. If you cannot do that against Charles Barron, Jumaane Williams, and whichever other clown comes to New York City posturing as a progressive politician, it’s time to pack up our bags and leave town, because you can’t do politics with progressive people of color denouncing you for that kind of stuff. Not gonna happen. So let me wrap up, I’ll just wrap up on this one point. I’m not saying we go out ignore the class, race, gender differences, the fact that some of us might not have been from Flatbush, and just start rioting. And start trying to foment rebellion out of nowhere. That would be a caricature of my argument. I am saying, though, we have to break out of a certain set of traps that the politicians set up, and I think sometimes we end up setting ourselves, if we’re even gonna begin building a movement with revolutionary multiracial politics in New York City. Thank You.
jodi: Hey everyone. Alright, so Shemon said a lot - it was a bit dense. Shemon, Elliott, and I are in this same political organizing collective, and probably are aligned in and in affinity with each other on a lot of things, but probably also diverge a lot in our politics and we’ll sort that through. Maybe not in this conversation, but hopefully eventually. So, I think an overarching way in which I feel my politics diverges with Shemon’s politics, and I’m gonna push forward what I think needs to manifest. Embracing feminism, cause it’s awesome, and I feel that sometimes perhaps not intentionally, Shemon puts forward “revolutionary politics” that, in my mind are counter-feminist, and I have deep problems with that. But I’m gonna get to a few of the things that I want to say. I’m gonna touch on, I forget which piece it is, but there is a report back of the Flatbush situation, and one of the questions that are being put forward in that piece is: “What explains the lack of a Black revolutionary Left in this day and age?” And how does that relate to the situation in Flatbush, and the after effects, and what can and cannot happen coming out of that situation? I feel if we’re going to ask the question, “What explains the lack of a Black Revolutionary Left in this day and age,” we need to look at what derailed a Black Revolutionary Left in the past and how we are a part of that trajectory and things that we either do, whether they are purposeful or not, that continue to perpetuate those tendencies that are counter-revolutionary, whether it’s with super-oppressed poor and working class black folks in New York City or just societally, the ways in which we perpetuate counter-revolutionary tendencies.
So, I have some bullet points that I could go into on what derailed the Black Revolutionary Left in the past. And I feel like Shemon probably would agree with some of those things, like liberal politics, co-optation, state repression, the ways in which the incarceration system has evolved to counter black people just being able to freely move around, much less, strategize on bringing down the white supremacist state. But also, some things that I think are very important, and this is probably where my politics doesn’t fall in line with Shemon’s politics, is oversight on anti-oppressive politics. And, “anti-oppression,” some people really fucking hate that, but I’m trying to come into understanding, what anti-oppression means. And not “anti-oppression” that’s muddled by liberal politics, and “anti-oppression” that’s used to advance the non-profit system. But anti-oppression meaning against white supremacy, against misogyny, against rape culture, against dominant culture, against transmisogyny, against transphobia. So, I’m throwing out all the “-isms” and people are like: “Oh, this person is talking about identity politics!” But, I think it’s important because there are external forces, from the state and institutions, that act on “potential black militants” and there is also internal dynamics that derail that. So I know that there’s a way in which liberal politicians who are aligned with the white supremacist state will say things like: “We’re in front of the police, there’s some shit that’s about to go down, no, we shouldn’t focus on that right now, because there’s ‘black-on-black crime.’” That’s not what I’m talking about when I say that there is violence happening within black communities that is counter-revolutionary. There is violence that is happening inside black homes, black schools, black churches that is counter-revolutionary and that’s important to me. And not coming from a framework that’s liberal, not coming from a framework that’s apologizing for the state, or saying that because black men rape black women, or because black men beat up black queer folks, that means, therefore, that we don’t need to talk about revolution, and we don’t need to talk about forces, such as the state, such as the police, such as larger systems. But I think from my perspective, it’s not an either or, and distinguishing what anti-oppressive politics looks like, and not within a liberal framework, and not anti-oppressive politics that’s used to apologize for perpetuating the state is very important. And I feel like, maybe we can have a later conversation on fleshing that out.
In regards to the rebellion… the uprising in Flatbush, and how do we move forward…. So I wrote down “BLACK SUFFERING” in all caps on my paper. Because it’s something that I personally need to come to understand because of the ways in which society has acted on my mind and my body as a black person trying to navigate in this world…. I need to understand black suffering and what that looks like, how I can respond to my conditions, I need to come to understand that. And I feel like if we’re talking about black youth in Flatbush, fighting the cops and rising up, that also collectively, we also need to come to a collective understanding of black suffering. But I think, Left politics does some really fucked things to prevent itself from really sitting with what Black suffering looks like. And really sitting with the legacy of slavery, the legacy of white supremacist vigilante violence, the legacy of white supremacist state violence, the legacy of just black hurting, people don’t really understand that. There is different groupings of people who think they understand it, but I feel like we really don’t, because, if we did, I don’t think that we would be sitting here having this domesticated conversation in Bluestockings Bookstore, of all places, if we really understood the situation at hand. So, I think it’s important, if we’re talking about how black folks negotiate in the world, in relation to white supremacy and how that affects them, I think we really need to come to understand what that means, and we need to deconstruct a lot of the euphemisms, and a lot of the avoidance mechanisms that the Left has to relate to the ways in which black people suffer in this society. We really need to deconstruct that and reject that if we’re gonna be on the streets next to those folks, and figure out how we move around in relation to them, we really need to come to understand what’s going on. Yeah, so I feel like people are just afraid of sitting with black suffering, like the suffering of the descendants of enslaved Africans on the western hemisphere, the suffering of Africans on the African continent, people are fucking afraid to really understand the depths of those wounds. And I feel like it would be a useful thing for people to just transform your consciousness and reject a lot of the really fucked up ideological things that the Left does to kind of skew or muddle or whatever the case may be. I think that’s a really important thing.
I think moving forward, it’s important to be mindful of tendencies on the Left and how they’re gonna respond to this situation. And I think Shemon speaks a lot to Non-profit politics, and elected officials, and those dynamics. Folks who are liberals, folks who are state apologists, folks who are cop apologists, that tendency, I feel like it is really important to be mindful of that, but I think there is a whole other tendency that Shemon hasn’t gotten to, that I want to touch on a little bit. So, I feel like the tendency that Shemon is speaking to is probably the docile, Institutional Left, 501c3 organizations, elected officials, churches, whatever the case may be. And how they’re gonna come in and play a role of placating, playing a role of “let’s keep the peace,” when we know what they’re really saying is “let’s keep the violence.” But that’s the role they’re gonna play and I feel like it falls into a general tendency of paternalism. But, I feel like if folks have time after this, because we’re not gonna have time to deconstruct everything in this conversation, do some readings on “white radicalism,” shitty white radicalism, I don’t even know if I need to put a “shitty” before “white radicalism?” But yeah I think there is another tendency that Shemon is not speaking to, and I feel like whatever Anarchist, Left Communist, Socialist, whatever different folks who may not belong in the Non-profit/elected official camp of people, who do have critiques of capitalism, who do have have critiques of liberalism, or the state, or whatever the case may be, there are ways in which those folks act, despite their theory, and the fact that they think that they’re fucking awesome, and they get shit, there are ways in which they act, that are derailing. There’s ways in which they act counter to black people sitting with their trauma, and moving around and negotiating what they’re gonna decide to do in response to their trauma. And I feel like the tendency that Shemon has spoken to is paternalism, and I feel like we also need to be mindful of the chauvinism of the white-dominated, heterosexual, cisgender, male dominated Left, just swooping in and being like: “Let me mask up, and where’s the fucking brick? Let’s do this!” Not because I’m not fucking down with that shit sometimes, but I’m saying, that tendency is also something that really needs to be examined. I know folks have written about, and critiqued Occupy a lot as a manifestation of white radicalism, and folks have critiqued the critiques of Occupy. And kind of minimized a lot of what people felt in those spaces, a lot of white supremacy that unfolded in those spaces, dominant culture, rape culture, a lot of shitty and fucked up things, a lot of the racial and gender oppression that I either experienced in those spaces or witnessed unfolding. A lot of people are like: “Oh, but you know, the white militants…” We’re just gonna pretend that fucked up shit that is happening is not something that needs to be reckoned with. And I think that that’s not a choice that I need to make. That’s a false choice between the shitty non-profit/elected official, paternalist politics, and the chauvinist politics. It’s not a choice that I feel to choose any one of those options. And what I’d like to come out of this is towards feminism, and what can fucking bad ass politics look like on the ground, that’s not making that false choice of either shitty paternalism or shitty chauvinism.
Shemon: I have seven sentences. The rebellion, by those young people, I don’t think we should call “revolutionary” per se. I’ve seen it as ranging from “My boy got shot, I’m pissed, I’m gonna rebel,” to a general anti-cop rebellion, reflecting the broader dynamics of police brutality. We should remember that some of the most popular chants by the young people were: “Suck a dick.” And “NYPD equals New York Pussy Department.” So, lots of problems with both those type of chants. Second point is, what I’ll say is the struggle against the capitalists is equally within oppressed people to find out the social relations that will come to exist, so… there’s been a lot of discussion ranging from feminism, internal questions facing Black Liberation of the Black community. And as a general methodological approach, that’s how I understand that question. So, I agree with jodi, it should never be an either or position. But that they happen together, I’ll say that. The third thing is, I’ve lived in New York for four years. And I’ll put myself out there. I guess I’m wondering to what extent, where are we to have serious intellectual discussions and not spectacle? Discussion that is spectacle…. I have not found that space in New York City. Much of what I see in New York City is posturing, hyper-militancy. And I play to some of those things. I’m not immune to that shit. You’re apart of the society you’re apart of. But, I’m like, I wanna escape it. And the Flatbush thing is another reminder. I don’t think Flatbush was a spectacle. I think that was a real event. But I think the discussions that then come out of Flatbush, you know, some of the things I heard tonight. I’m just like, are we gonna have a serious discussion or are we gonna beat the shit out of each other…. I guess I’m not happy. People don’t need to give a shit. That’s how I feel.
jodi: Alright, I’m not happy either. And that’s okay. I’m not sure how other folks feel. But I’m not happy. So are we gonna have a serious discussion in Bluestockings Bookstore? I’ve frequented this bookstore, and gotten awesome books from here. But, Bluestockings is a white-dominated Radical Left space in New York City. Are we gonna have “THE” final and really intense, and complicated, and engaging, and insightful serious discussions about the implications of the Flatbush Rebellion in this space, right now…. at the New York City Anarchist Book Fair panel. Probably not, and that’s okay. Somethings that I’ll speak to in terms of, Shemon brought up some things about how things played out in the moments of whatever uprisings took place in Flatbush. Like, “Are we gonna be neighborhood nationalists, are we gonna be segregationists?” Yeah, I guess, that’s what people do. People live in New York City, a lot of people are gentrifiers of New York City, and live amongst Flatbush, or Harlem, or the Bronx, or whatever the case may be. And we engage with other people on the “Radical Left,” which is a subculture. And we have really intense conversations with each other, and then, when a Flatbush happens, we realize that our conversations are predominantly irrelevant. Because no one does have a practice that can play out on the ground and lead to something that is more than what happened. So, that’s the past, and we can’t change the past, and what is that gonna look like moving forward? I think I might define the “neighborhood nationalism” differently than Shemon does. I’m not saying that Jumaane Williams is right and because he is the Councilmember of East Flatbush, that this means that he is able to dictate to everyone and say: “No one can do anything if you don’t live within the City Council limits of Flatbush.” I’m not saying that, but “neighborhood nationalism” is something that people on the Radical Left perpetuate, when people hang out in their little gentrifying bubbles. Whether you identify as an Anarchist or a Feminist, or whatever the case may be. And just hang out with each other and, whatever it is that we’re talking about, clearly is not relating to whatever those kids feel, and whatever their lived experience is. So that’s my perception of the “neighborhood nationalism” that Shemon is talking about. I don’t know if that’s what you were putting out there when you mentioned that. But, how are we gonna deconstruct that? In terms of the issue of “segregationism,” there’s fracturing in the Left, based on different political ideologies, based on people’s identities that they experience. And I’m all about fucking tearing down those walls, but what is that work gonna look like? What is it gonna look like to tear down those walls? Myself, being a black queer person in this city… When people aren’t really dedicated to fucking tearing down the walls of white supremacy, when people aren’t dedicated to tearing down the walls of misogyny, when people aren’t dedicated to tearing down the walls of transmisogyny, when people aren’t really dedicated to tearing down the walls of rape culture! Folks aren’t fucking ready to do it. So I’m not as upset as Shemon is, that this wasn’t “the” conversation. Cause I already know the ways in which people aren’t fucking down to be on some other shit, and I’m okay with that for right now. Not because I’m saying, fuck the possibilities… fuck the revolutionary possibilities, but because I could only put in so much energy, and a tiny grouping of people can only put in so much energy, saying “fuck this shit.” What are we gonna do to come together? What are we gonna do to cross the lines of identity? I want to chill with white folks, but can white people stop being white supremacists, and then we can hang out together and talk about what a multiracial class struggle looks like?! So yeah, that’s my closing statements. Thanks everyone.
Curated blog focused on Black radical thought; relates to a soon to come zine I’m working on with some lovely folks. The zine will center and honor the voices of Black folks who are engaged in radical political and cultural work. Especially those who are womyn, trans*, and queer folks: